Retiring To Europe: 5 Top Havens To Consider

Top Havens On The Continent

April 30 through May 2, Lief Simon and I will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, along with more than three-dozen expats and experts, friends, colleagues, and key contacts from all across the globe, convening with us for this 2012 Retire Overseas Conference to introduce the assembled group to the best places on earth to think about spending time and money right now…the world’s top choices for living, retiring, investing, or starting a business overseas.

We intend to organize the program geographically. As I explained yesterday, first we’ll look at the top havens of the Americas.

Then we’ll move on to Europe.

Because not everyone is cut out for life in the tropics or the developing world. I appreciate the many delights, benefits, and opportunities associated with living and doing business in Latin America, but, for my money, the best quality of life in the world is to be found on the other side of the Pond.

For me, life in France, specifically in Paris, where we lived for four years before moving to Panama City, is as good as it gets. But that’s me.

If you, too, are tempted by the idea of launching a new life in the Old World, this part of the program we’re planning for Scottsdale will be of great interest…

#1 Haven On The Continent: France

France is a land of superlatives…from its capital, the most beautiful, most romantic, and most touristed city on earth, to its wines, cheeses, restaurants, shopping, castles, gardens, parks, beaches, museums, cafes, galleries, vineyards, country villages, medieval towns, art, and architecture, all among the best that this world has to offer. The typical concern for anyone who has ever dreamed of a new life in France is that it’s too expensive for the average guy (or gal) to consider seriously.

Not so. Paris isn’t cheap (though, speaking as one who lived in the city with two small children, I can tell you that it can be much more affordable than you might imagine, depending how and where you choose to live), but elsewhere in France you can find realistic options even if your retirement budget is modest.

Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper has researched France end to end and coast to coast. She can direct you to its more and most affordable corners. After scouting options in the Americas (from Mexico to Costa Rica to Panama) for a year, Lucy and her family decided that life in the New World was not for them. They sought out instead the traditions and the charms of life back on the Continent. When they decided to focus on Europe, they could have settled anywhere. They chose France, specially a region of France that Lucy and her husband found to offer all the best of French country living at a very reasonable cost, even for their family of four. Lucy will be in Scottsdale with us to tell you all about it.

#2 Haven On The Continent: Italy

Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany…what more can I say?

Except that, right, the cost of living in those places might be beyond the limits of your retirement budget. That doesn’t mean you should take Italy off your list entirely if this is the country that stirs your imagination and speaks to your soul. Our Italy Correspondent Nikki De Girolamo, a British expat who has been living in Italy full-time for the past 14 years, will join us in Scottsdale to show you affordable Italy. Specifically, Nikki will introduce you to her chosen corner of this country, a place where a retiree can live an enormously full and rich life even on a modest budget. From this beautiful Old World base, within a half-day’s drive of both the coast and the mountains, you could plan excursions to Italy’s better-known and more expensive outposts as often as you liked.

#3 Haven On The Continent: Ireland

At last year’s Retire Overseas Conference in Orlando, when the time came for Lief and me to take the stage to present Ireland, we were near the end of Day 2 of the event, and, I have to admit it, I was feeling a bit tired. So I asked Lief to kick off our discussion of expat life and retirement in this country, based on our experiences living there for seven years, raising our children (in fact, Jackson was born in Waterford and is a dual citizen by birth), running our business, making a home and a life, as expats, parents, and entrepreneurs…

Lots to discuss, that Lief could cover as well as I. So I stood off to the side and listened as Lief opened…

Ireland is the Latin America of Europe,” he explained. “The Irish don’t have a word for manana, but they sure do embrace the concept.”

Everyone laughed.

Behind Lief, on the screen, showed photos of rolling green hills and old stone houses…St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, central Dublin townhouses with their colorful Georgian front doors…the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, the Bay of Bantry…Galway, Clifden, Wexford…forts, gardens, beaches…

But what was that Lief was saying?

“The infrastructure will make you think you’re in Latin America, too. Despite all the money that flowed through this country during its Celtic Tiger days, they never managed to build a real highway system or bring their railroads into the 21st century. The health care system is in near-chaos…”

More laughter…more uncertain this time.

“And, while we were living there, the cost of living increased exponentially. We moved to Ireland because it was an affordable place to run a business. But prices rose so high so fast that Ireland priced itself out of the world market, and many businesses that had moved to Ireland to open call centers, for example, moved on to Eastern Europe. They just couldn’t afford the Irish labor force anymore.

“Real estate in Dublin became more expensive than real estate in Paris. How does that make sense?” Lief asked his audience.

Which responded with a few confused chuckles.

What was going on here?

“Maybe you’re not the best one to be giving this talk,” I said, taking center stage from Lief, as the room erupted in laughter.

“We promise warts and all,” I said, “but not warts…and more warts.

“There are reasons Ireland is on our list of Top Havens in Europe,” I explained to the crowd in Orlando last year, “but I fear that, if I allow Lief to continue on as he has been, we’ll never get to them…”

Everything Lief had been reporting about Ireland was true, but it was only one side of the story. Only one face of this beautiful country.

Americans have long dreamed of retirement on the Emerald Isle and with good reason. What Mother Nature has accomplished on this little island competes with her finest work anywhere. Even Lief and I, as frustrated as we were trying to run a business in this country, recognized and appreciated how extraordinarily and diversely beautiful it is.

It’s also safe, peaceful, relaxed, welcoming, friendly, hospitable, and English-speaking. Making it an ideal retirement choice for many.

That, then, is the distinction we went on to make for those in the room with us in Orlando last year…and that we’ll draw out again for everyone who joins us in Scottsdale next month. Ireland has long been and remains today one of the world’s top retirement havens. It is also, I’m happy to be able to report, more affordable today than it was when Lief and I were living there. And its property market has fallen off a cliff. Real estate prices are down 50% and more…and still falling by all accounts.

Meaning that, if you, like so many others, have dreamed of wiling away your retirement years on your own little piece of the Auld Sod, this could be the best time in your lifetime to think about making that purchase.

Again, more on the charms, appeals, and current property market of Ireland when we meet in Scottsdale in April. (Yes, Lief will be on stage to help present this country, but I don’t think I’ll let him lead off again…)

#4 Haven On The Continent: Spain

Spain is known among expats for its coastlines, Atlantic and Mediterranean, especially its infamous (and wholly unappealing in our view) Costa del Sol. But there’s more to this country than its costas. Barcelona, for example, is a world-class city on the ocean, perfect if you’re looking for a cosmopolitan life near the water.

Great beaches, great cities, great people…but why Spain right now? Because real estate prices in this country have fallen tremendously since the highs of four or five years ago, meaning that, if retirement to Spain appeals, this could be the time to go in search of a great deal on Spanish retirement digs.

Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper and her family, recently resident in France, also called Spain home. She’ll share the delights and the attractions when we all assemble in Scottsdale next month.

#5 Haven On The Continent: Croatia

Seven years ago, Lief, the children, and I spent a week touring around Istria, Croatia, with a focused agenda. We were in the market for one of the old white stone houses you find across this peninsula. We wanted to stake our small claim to this beautiful and historic region that, during previous visits, had so captured our hearts and our imaginations.

On that trip seven years ago, Kaitlin, 15, Jackson, 5, Lief, and I followed our property agent from one stone farmhouse to another, up and down the narrow winding roads of these mountainsides, through the medieval villages, and past the expansive fields of olive trees, grape vines, and sunflowers, more infatuated with the region with each passing day.

We had recently made our move, at the time, from Ireland to France, and, one rainy morning of that Istrian family adventure, standing in one muddy Istrian farmyard, Kaitlin observed, “But haven’t we done this already? Haven’t we already bought an old stone house surrounded by mud? Isn’t that what we just did in Ireland? Why do you guys want to do this again?”

Probably Kaitlin wasn’t the only one to wonder why we’d decided to make this investment. But we believed in the future of Croatia, a country with an extraordinarily complicated history and an extremely open-minded, forward-looking population. We recognized that Croatia was at another turning point in its long history, and we wanted to be part of it.

Plus, the Istrian Peninsula serves up some of the most delightful scenery on this planet. The land seems to rise up to embrace you. Everywhere you look, something nice is growing–olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins, blackberries, wildflowers… Even the buildings seem to be of the earth, built of its white stone and red clay.

In some parts of the world, Nature outdoes herself. In others, that which man has built is impressive. In Istria, Nature and mankind have worked together over centuries, starting with the Romans, to create a land of delights you have to see to appreciate.

One rainy morning on that trip seven years ago, we found one 200-year-old white stone house that we particularly liked, perched as it was on a mountainside above a long valley of olive trees and grape vines, made an offer to the Istrian owner, and agreed the terms with a handshake. The seller sealed the deal by making a gift to us of lavender oil his wife had bottled.

We returned to visit this part of the world and the little stone house we bought here last summer, to see how things have changed in the intervening years.

I’m happy to be able to report that we were as taken with this sun-soaked region as ever. Croatia, specifically its Istrian peninsula, offers one of the most appealing lifestyle options in Europe today. We’ll tell you all about it in Scottsdale next month…

Kathleen Peddicord